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'The Uniform Should Be Above Religion'

Last updated on: April 24, 2018 11:05 IST

'The political leadership is not realising that it is dividing the uniform on the lines of religion.'
'This will lead to anarchy.'

Kind courtesy the Mumbai Police calendar 2018
IMAGE: Kind courtesy the Mumbai Police calendar 2018.

Dr Meeran C Borwankar was Maharashtra's first woman commissioner of police and the officer in charge of the hangings of Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon.

Dr Borwankar was one of the 49 retired civil servants who wrote to Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, telling him that 'In post-independent India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble.'

"It is most important for society, for the uniform, to be above religion. Otherwise, whom will we look up to if we feel this police station is aligned to Hindutva and this police station to a minority?" Dr Borwankar, below, left, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

 

It took the rape victim in Unnao 10 months to register an FIR against a powerful MLA and an order from the Allahabad high court to get him arrested.
Why is filing an FIR still so difficult in our country?

This is an endemic problem all over the country, but not like this, that for one year the FIR is not registered.

This shows absolute Jungle Raj.

You can always close it as a false complaint in case you conclude it is a false case, but not registering it for one year despite the girl protesting and making an arrest only after court intervention is Jungle Raj.

Why is there a reluctance to register an FIR?

The police immediately registers cases in murders, dacoity and in other cases. Reluctance is also because of overwork.

A citizen walks into a police station, but the policeman doesn't see him as az citizen, but as an extra load of work.

His shift is 12 to 14 hours long and he may not like to take your case.

I feel the way out is that officers at the reception who take down your complaint should not be investigating officers.

It should be then distributed to officers who should not be made to work beyond 8 hours.

They are overworked, that is why they are impolite, rude, arrogant. Not because of their nature, but because of 365 days of work load.

I am also very distressed that in the Unnao case there was such political pressure on the police.

I feel myself a failure that we have not been able to convince the police officer to register a case immediately.

The Kathua rape chargesheet not only says that an SHO raped the child, but two policemen washed her clothes to destroy evidence.

This should not be considered a norm in the police at all. It is extremely, extremely, rare.

I agree that late registration or the reluctance to register an FIR is common, but the washing of the victim's clothes? Only 1 in 1 lakh policemen will do such a thing.

This is unheard of. If this is proved in the court of law, the policeman is going to suffer very badly.

Have you come across instances of destruction of evidence by the police in your career?

I have not come across destruction of evidence, but I have come across instances of policemen responding to the religious call than to professional duty.

This fanaticism -- though very minor -- has crept into the police.

What should be done to reform the police force and sensitise them?

  • Rationalise duty hours so that they are neither able to justify their corrupt practices or their rude, arrogant behaviour to citizens.
  • Punish those who deviate from that.

Mind you when it comes to punishment, the police department takes maximum action. No other department does that.

Frequent in service training, sensitisation to gender, minorities should also help.

Dr Meeran C Borwankar

Have you faced pressure from politicians in the discharge of your duties?

Yes, many a times. Initially, you face pressure and then your reputation builds up.

I have gone to the extent of telling a politician that only the President of India can take action against me.

Every officer has to decide where s/he shall draw a line. Political pressure is a reality in any bureaucrat or police officer's life.

As police commissioner of Pune, a political party wanted to give 2 acres of police station land to a company to develop an IT hub.

I refused despite tremendous political pressure. I am happy I proved true to the salt of the police.

Many officers don't consider it difficult to stand up to pressure, we are in the department for this purpose, otherwise what is the point of the IPS?

But as a society we must pitch for Constitutional-minded police officers and bureaucrats.

48 bureaucrats and yourself sent a letter to the prime minister saying this was India's darkest hour. What troubles you most about our times?

There have been many darkest hours -- Partition, the Emergency, Sikh riots -- one of the darkest hours is today because Dalits, minorities are alienated, women are suppressed and oppressed. The population is feeling insecure.

The letter said civil servants fail to do their duty.

What better example of this than Unnao and Kathua?

Two officers taking money for a cover-up in Kathua, and not making the arrest in Unnao -- are examples of service officers failing.

What has shocked you most about the conduct of the protectors of law in these two cases?

Maybe Maharashtra (where she served) is a better administered state.

During the Jalgaon sex scandal which I investigated, the message was don't spare anybody irrespective of political parties.

Police officers have to have a backbone. I would have exposed those putting pressure on me not to make an arrest, luckily that didn't happen.

In UP, the court intervened and then the arrest happened. It is very, very, distressing.

The lesson is to make the police autonomous so that it does not come under pressure and hold them accountable.

They should be answerable to the DG (director general) of police or the Police Compliant Authority.

At the same time if we are pointing fingers at politicians, we also have to introspect at the police level.

From the Jalgaon sex scandal that you investigated in 1994 to now, what changes have you seen in the manner law enforcement agencies deal with sexual violence?

The changes have come after the Nirbhaya case.

There are many positive changes in the IPC (Indian Penal Code), CRPC (Criminal Procedure Code) under which we investigate crime.

The law is in favour of the victim and the prosecution branch gets very good points in its favour for strengthening the prosecution.

But the ground reality is quite different.

Why are rapes so rampant in India?

Why does it come into the picture after it is reported?

Isn't it a social disgrace that we have so many rapes?

Many are in favour of capital punishment, but the fear is also true that rapists will start murdering the child.

How do you look back at the Jalgaon sex scandal that you investigated?

In the Jalgaon case, getting them convicted was a difficult task. The earliest case was registered six months after the rape.

As a professional police officer I knew my cases were weak.

It depends on how the judge assesses the investigation.

I was very amused to realise that recently when I went to Jalgaon to speak to school students, a hall booked for my talk was cancelled because it belonged to one of the accused in the Jalgaon sex scandal.

You say a policeman can be swayed by his/her religious feelings. How dangerous is that?

It is extremely dangerous.

We feel the political leadership is not realising that it is dividing the uniform on the lines of religion.

It will ultimately be a dead end. It is most important for society, for the uniform, to be above religion.

Otherwise, whom will we look up to if we feel this police station is aligned to Hindutva and this police station to a minority?

This will lead to anarchy.

Now that you spend a lot of time giving talks post-retirement, what is that you are asked about the most by your audience?

People are most curious about the Kasab and Yakub Memon hangings -- but students are more curious about the civil services and how to be good citizens.

What do they want to know about the hangings?

Many are most aghast that a lady could see the actual hanging. I feel people underestimate our gender.

So many times I am asked if I fainted, or if I was really present.

I tell them presence is a very small part in an execution, the big legal work involved, managing the prison at that particular time, and keeping it secure is much more important.

The curiosity is more about my gender witnessing the execution.

These two executions were part of my career.

I like interacting with young boys and girls. They have zest and enthusiasm.

I strongly feel that the next generation will do better than us. Somehow, my generation has failed the country.

I see a lot of honesty, enthusiasm and selflessness amongst the youth today. I hope they do not get divided on the lines of caste/religion, but value the diversity. And are tolerant, which is the basic Indian ethos.

Archana Masih / Rediff.com